Something about Gilgit:

Gilgit


In a paper on the origins of gilgit, the noted scholar Dr. N.A Baloch has used Arab authorities to prove that the earliest mention of a name on the Sindh coastline which resembles that of gilgit is in an early literary work in Arabic by Al Hasan bin Muhammad bin Al Hasan Al Saghani written in the thirteenth century. The great Arab navigator Ibn Majid who died AD 1500 refers to "Karazi" in his work "Al fawaid". The next reference to the early existence of the port of gilgit comes from the work of a celebrated Arab navigator Suleiman al Mahri's "Umdah" (AD 1511). In this book he mentions Ras al Karazi and also Ras gilgit. Al Mahri gives the route to be followed from Pasni to Ras Karashi. Based on his work as well as that of Ibn Majid, the Turkish Captain Sidi Ali Reis in his famous work "Muhit" (1553-1554) which was a compilation of sailing directions for a voyage from "Diu" formerly a Portuguese island south of "Kathiawar", to Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, mentions "Kaurashi" which is a indication that a harbor with a name closely resembling gilgit was familiar to the navigators of the sixteenth century and even an earlier period. This treatise warns the sailors of whirlpools and advises them to seek safety in gilgit Harbor if ever they found themselves drifting dangerously.

HISTORY

Gilgit has been dwelled for about a thousand years. Its strategic location makes it extremely important in the history of the subcontinent. For been invaded by different the parties at times, its culture varies in customs and religion. The early inhabitants were the animists, who were replaced by the Iranians, introducing fire worship in the region. Then the Hinduism followed the Aryan invasion. The Chinese have also played an important role in the moulding of the various customs in the area, as since the first century BC it has been an important transactional platform on the Silk Route from China.

From the 4th to 11th century AD, Gilgit remained under the Buddhist rule. Gilgit and Yasin together were then called Little Bolor, and Baltistan as Great Bolor, according to Chinese Tang Annals.

The early 8th century Gilgit witnessed the struggle of the three powers of China, Arabia, and Tibet against each other for control. In 725, Tibet joined the kingdoms of Great and Little Bolor, and brought them under its suzerainty.

From 747 to 751, there was a Chinese interlude. The Chinese troops swarmed across the Boroghil and Dargot passes and to Yasin, and were later driven back by the Arabs Muslims from the West.

Arab Muslim forces entered Pakistan from the south by the sea, less than a hundred years after the death of the prophet Mohammed in 632, also reaching Xinjiyang in the north by land. Mohammed Bin Qasim remained successful in south, but the northern invasion repulsed. Kashmir was a progressing power at that time, and the Tibetans enrolled the Kashmiris under a strong unity in order to keep the Arab Muslims out of the northern Pakistan.

The Shins - European Shina-speaking people, invaded Gilgit in the 10th century. Shina language, still the most important dialect spoken in Gilgit, is responsible for the movement of the native Burushaski speakers to the valleys of Hunza, Nagar, and Yasin.

Mahmood Ghazni invasion from Afghanistan took place in the 11th century, seizing the land from Hindus, and conquering it for the propagation of Islam. At that time, Gilgit was the part of the powerful independent mountain stronghold of Dardistan at that time. The central power gradually faced a decline, and resulted in the formation of seven small autonomous domains. These were Gilgit, Punial, Ishokoman, Ghizar, Yasin, Hunza, and Nagar, situated along the riversides of Gilgit and Hunza. These small realms, spoke their own languages, followed their own customs, and used to be at war with each other.

After the 15th century, most of the local population was turning to Islam. In the 16th century, the Sunni Pathans started settling here from Swat. And before the 17th century, the Shia Muslims began their shifting in Baltistan.

In 1846, the British appointed Gulab Singh as the first Maharaja of Kashmir, putting the areas of Ladakh, Baltistan, and Gilgit under his rule. However, the Maharaja’s forces could never silence the repeated campaigns held by the Muslim tribesmen in 1850s and 1860s against the rule.

In 1877, the British set up the Gilgit agency, being conscious about the strategic importance of the area for being near to China and Russia. It was the most isolated and the most impractical outpost of the British Empire. The reasons for the failure of this agency were the severe weather conditions, heavy snowfall covering the area most of the time of the year, not allowing it to serve its purpose _ to guard against the possible Russian thrust through the mountains to Kashmir.

The second agency was set up in 1889, when the route from Srinagar via Astor had improved, and the Gilgit had also established a telegraphic link with the other areas. It offered better working conditions and facilities, so received a warm welcome from the British soldiers. After that, a series of campaigns started arousing in order to take control of the surrounding kingdoms. In 1891, led by the Alergnon Durand, they overran Hunza, and in 1893, strengthened the fort at Chilas to defend the new road over the Babusar Pass against the Kohistani tribes.

In 1913, the British formed a force of 600 Gilgit Scouts in order to maintain peace in the area, and for guarding it against any possible invasion. The scouts were mostly the sons of royalty from the seven kingdoms, commanded by a subedar major, usually the brother of one of the kings, under the direction of the political agent. The Scout’s bagpipe band wore the Black Watch tartan, and even today, practices in Chinnar Bagh near the river. In 1935, the airfield of the area was built.

At Partition in August 1947, when the British India was divided into the Hindu-Majority India, and the Muslim-Majority Pakistan, Gilgit and Baltistan were declared the constitutional parts of Jammu and Kashmir. This automatically made Gilgit the legal part of Pakistan. Kashmir’s Maharaja, Hari Singh, did not join the areas to either with Pakistan or with India, and the political agent of Gilgit handed the power over to a new governor Ghansara Singh. The Gilgit Scouts were left in the charge of Major William Brown, a British officer who had volunteered to see them through Independence. While the Hindus and Muslims shifted themselves to their respective places in India or Pakistan, the Gilgities had no other choice than to remain in suspense about their future.

At the Pathan tribesmen’s invasion from the NWFP to Kashmir in October declaring jihad, Hari Singh escaped to Delhi. On October 31st, Subedar Major Babar Khan and Mirzada Shah Khan arrested Ghansara Singh in Gilgit under the order of Major William Brown. Gilgit was then declared as ‘the Independent Republic of Gilgit’, which later acceding to Pakistan.

After the 15th century, most of the local population was turning to Islam. In the 16th century, the Sunni Pathans started settling here from Swat. And before the 17th century, the Shia Muslims began their shifting in Baltistan.

In 1846, the British appointed Gulab Singh as the first Maharaja of Kashmir, putting the areas of Ladakh, Baltistan, and Gilgit under his rule. However, the Maharaja’s forces could never silence the repeated campaigns held by the Muslim tribesmen in 1850s and 1860s against the rule.

In 1877, the British set up the Gilgit agency, being conscious about the strategic importance of the area for being near to China and Russia. It was the most isolated and the most impractical outpost of the British Empire. The reasons for the failure of this agency were the severe weather conditions, heavy snowfall covering the area most of the time of the year, not allowing it to serve its purpose _ to guard against the possible Russian thrust through the mountains to Kashmir.

The second agency was set up in 1889, when the route from Srinagar via Astor had improved, and the Gilgit had also established a telegraphic link with the other areas. It offered better working conditions and facilities, so received a warm welcome from the British soldiers. After that, a series of campaigns started arousing in order to take control of the surrounding kingdoms. In 1891, led by the Alergnon Durand, they overran Hunza, and in 1893, strengthened the fort at Chilas to defend the new road over the Babusar Pass against the Kohistani tribes.

In 1913, the British formed a force of 600 Gilgit Scouts in order to maintain peace in the area, and for guarding it against any possible invasion. The scouts were mostly the sons of royalty from the seven kingdoms, commanded by a subedar major, usually the brother of one of the kings, under the direction of the political agent. The Scout’s bagpipe band wore the Black Watch tartan, and even today, practices in Chinnar Bagh near the river. In 1935, the airfield of the area was built.

At Partition in August 1947, when the British India was divided into the Hindu-Majority India, and the Muslim-Majority Pakistan, Gilgit and Baltistan were declared the constitutional parts of Jammu and Kashmir. This automatically made Gilgit the legal part of Pakistan. Kashmir’s Maharaja, Hari Singh, did not join the areas to either with Pakistan or with India, and the political agent of Gilgit handed the power over to a new governor Ghansara Singh. The Gilgit Scouts were left in the charge of Major William Brown, a British officer who had volunteered to see them through Independence. While the Hindus and Muslims shifted themselves to their respective places in India or Pakistan, the Gilgities had no other choice than to remain in suspense about their future.

At the Pathan tribesmen’s invasion from the NWFP to Kashmir in October declaring jihad, Hari Singh escaped to Delhi. On October 31st, Subedar Major Babar Khan and Mirzada Shah Khan arrested Ghansara Singh in Gilgit under the order of Major William Brown. Gilgit was then declared as ‘the Independent Republic of Gilgit’, which later acceding to Pakistan.

1948 was the year of war between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue. At its end in 1949, the Government of Pakistan issued a proclamation separating the Northern Areas of Jammu and Kashmir from Azad Kashmir, placing them under the administration of the Federal Government, naming them as the Northern Areas of Pakistan.

Until 1974 the seven domains around Gilgit and Hunza rivers remained more or less autonomous, with the mirs or rajas having the control of administration, police, and justice. Afterwards, the Pakistani government incorporated these into Pakistan.

Since 1975, Pakistan has kept the Northern Areas under tight federal control. The main reasons are their strategic location adjoining China and the use of the Karakoram Highway for keeping an eye upon the movements of Chinese nuclear material and missiles.

Despite the controversial political issues, Gilgit has also been under certain religious tensions between Shia and Sunni Muslims. In 1998, The Sunnis of Chilas attacked the Shias of Gilgit, killing hundreds of people. The main issue was that the Shias finished the month of Ramadan a day ahead of Sunnis. The Sunni Muslims also attacked the Shias in 1989, again causing several deaths.

In 2001, the Sunnis and Shias clashed once again. The reason was the demand of the Sunni Muslims, that the Shia students should study the books written by the Sunni religious scholars. As the Agra Summit was about to be held, the army took control over the area, cutting off all the communications between the area and the rest of the Pakistan. The reason of this cut-off was to conceal the inter-country quarrels from the rest of the world, because it might have affected Pakistan’s position in the Summit in case they were out, as Gilgit was already a controversial area regarding its association with Kashmir _ one of the vital topics of the Summit.

The area of Gilgit has been run under the federal government of Pakistan, but still the it has not given the locals their civil or even basic human rights. The reason is that the Pakistani government itself is unsure about the future status of Kashmir, whether it will get totally independent or will it become the part of Pakistan. Due to the reason, even a proper infrastructure is missing, educational and healthcare is far ahead. The Gilgities are still waiting for having a representation in the legislature, and despite being the legal part of Azad Kashmir; they have never ever seen the face of the Azad Kashmiri Prime Minister.

CULTURE AND TRADITIONS


The greatest passion of the Gilgities is Polo, the King of games. The energetic game of Polo originated in the Northern areas is still played in Gilgit and Chitral in its original trilling form. The Friday matches are exciting, but the weeklong tournaments held at the polo ground at the Shandur Pass, are not to be missed. This polo ground is considered the world’s highest polo ground, situated at the height of approximately 3700m. And the matches are held in the months of June, August, and November, when it is the summer season.

Gilgit and Chitral are the traditional rival polo teams, struggling against each other to win the title of the best polo teams of the Northern Areas. The teams of Afghanistan and Kashgar (China) have also been invited here several times for competition.

The matches provide the best opportunity to observe the zest, vitality, and fondness for festivities in the apparently dull mountaineers, as well as the combination of cultures. The thrill of the game is doubled when accompanied with the loud music produced by clarinet and drums played by bands, and the wild involvement of dancing, singing, and shouting folk, free to encourage or jeer at the players without any formal restrictions. The different musical notes indicate the varying situations of the game, and different signal tones are assigned to different players, signaling when they have scored. This allows people especially the women, confined to their homes to follow the current situation of the game.

At the occasion, trout fishing competitions and singing contests are also held. Hunting is also liked by the locals.

PLACES OF INTEREST

Gilgit itself has no buildings of any historical interest. The only interesting place to visit here is the Gilgit Bazaar.

The Gilgit Bazaar is the central business place for traders from Central Asia, Punjab, and Sindh. This is the only market town in hundreds of km, and is always crowded except on Fridays, when it is off. The small shops provide an extra ordinary range of goods, especially the spare parts for jeeps, tyres, and batteries. The market also offers a large range of equipments for people interested in hiking, trekking and camping, such as tough climbing boots, sleeping bags, ice axes and camp stoves. There are several bookshops selling every kind of local and international books and magazines. A lot of shops not only supply every kind of local handicrafts and clothing, but also lustrous silks from China. A lot of bakeries, fruit, meat and vegetable shops can be easily located around the area. There also are a few markets for kitchenware selling porcelain pots and utensils.

The Chinese shop, is stocked every year in October with Chinese goods, when the annual truck brings supplies from Sin kiang-China to Gilgit under a border agreement. Correspondingly, a truck carrying Pakistani goods travels up the Karakoram Highway to China, promoting and promising the mutual friendship between the two countries.

The Raja Bazaar is the most colorful market in the area, having a number of spice and sweet shops, cafes and textile stores.

PLACES AROUND GILGIT

10 km west from Gilgit on the road to Punial is situated the famous 7th century Buddha Carving. The 10 ft Buddha figure carved or a rock is worth viewing. About a quarter of mile away from the Carving are a monastery and 3 stupas, which were excavated in 1938, catchy for people interested in historical architecture.

The Gilgit Manuscripts having great historical importance were discovered in 1931. These Buddhist manuscripts, written in Sanskrit, hold the dates and names of the past rulers of the area. In 1939 and 1956, a few more manuscripts were found and were sent to the different museums in Rome, Delhi, Karachi and Britain.

The 700-year old Victory Monument of Taj Mughal is situated at the distance of 11 km from Gilgit, is also worth visiting.

Naltar, 32 km from Gilgit and the ideal camping spot. It has clad pine forests and alpine meadows spread over 3,000 meters. Public Works Department rest house supplying the very basic need for tourists can be contact on the desire to stay here. The Lake at Naltar is an excellent fishing spot. The village is also the starting point for more energetic treks across the 4,000-meter Naltar Pass to the Ishokoman Valley, or across the 4,800-meter Daintar Pass to Chalt.

Shandur Pass is situated about 250 km from Gilgit at 3734 meters above the sea level. It is about a 1250 feet long pass, connecting Gilgit to Chitral. Its top is flat open summer pastureland having two small lakes. The pass is usually blocked from November to May due to heavy snowfall.

Across the Shandur pass follows the River Gilgit west for 240 km. There, there is a scary and torturous dirt track, hardly wide enough for a jeep to pass, is cut along the cliff face on the south track of the river. Leading to the ancient kingdoms of Punial, Gupis, Ishokoman, and Yasin, the same road takes to the Ghizar valley.

The Punial valley is 56 km from Gilgit. Here, Singal is an ideal trout fishing spot.

The Hunza valley lies on a branch of the Silk Road from Kashgar to Kashmir. The origins of Baltit, the capital of Hunza, consist mostly of the Baltit fort and a small village at its feet. The fort was the royal palace until the 1940s, when new palace was built in Karimabad.

Karimabad, 112 km from Gilgit is marked for its terraced fields and fruit orchards. One can have the spectacular view of the peaks of Rakaposhi, Ultar, Balimo and a few other great peaks from here. A few hotels for accommodation are also available here.

The Karakoram Highway is situated 112 km on the east bank of the River Hunza. This is the best place to view the world’s highest peaks. With the opening of the Karakoram Highway leading to China, the population of Gilgit has increased manifold; causing a swell in its population.

Rakaposhi, the world’s 27th highest peak, a 7788-meter gigantic mountain, rises straight on the horizon among the fields.

The famous peak of Nanga Parbat, 8125-meters, is also situated here, famous for its beauty and charm.

The Yasin Valley 160 km from Gilgit is the best area for people interested in hiking and trekking.

GETTING THERE GILGIT

The city is linked with Islamabad and Rawalpindi both by air and by road. PIA hosts several flights to Gilgit from Islamabad everyday, taking about 70 minutes to reach there. The flights take off only in clear weather, and are mostly cancelled due to the bad weather conditions, when clouds cause obscurity in the route. The flight to Gilgit is supposed to be the one of the most dangerous ones, for the narrow valley surrounded by the 1,525 meter mountains is too close to make a proper approach by air.

Despite danger, the flight from Islamabad to Gilgit is also one of the most exciting ones. When the planes fly over the Kaghan valley, Babusar Pass, the 55 million years old Karakoram and Himalayas ranges of mountains, it enables one to witness the peak of Nanga Parbat including the 121 peaks over 7,000 meters stretching range after range as far as one can see. Flying across K2, the second highest mountain in the world is the most enchanting part.

For traveling by road, NATCO, the Northern Areas Transport Company, provides various buses, minibuses, and wagons to Gilgit from Rawalpindi, taking about 17 hours to reach the destination. A few private companies also run hirable jeeps, wagons and vans for traveling to Gilgit. Public jeeps run twice a day from the Punial Road bus stop beyond the Agha Khan Polo Ground. And NATCO buses wagons and jeeps leave from NATCO in the mini bazaar. Ponies can also be hired for having the most down to earth rides in the hills.

The best time to visit the city is from May to the mid of October, when the valley grows full of scenic interests and at the peak of beauty.

GENERAL INFORMATION

  • Accommodation : Gilgit Serena Lodge provides the best accommodation facilities for tourists. It is well equipped with all the imaginable luxuries such as AC, Satellite TV, direct-dial telephone and Safe Deposit Box. Its services include currency exchange, postage, laundry, medical, and traveling etc. It has also got an excellent restaurant, coffee shop, banquet hall, barbershop, swimming pool, and a several boutiques. For officials, best conferencing and meeting facilities are also available.

  • Climate :
    Climatically, Gilgit experiences all the four seasons. The prevalent season is winter, occupying the valley eight to nine months a year. The winter season is severe for the temperatures fall lower than the freezing point due to the heavy snowfalls in the area. As a result of this extremity in the weather, the grip of the soil weakens up, resulting in landslides and devastating avalanches in the area.

    The summer season is brief and hot. The piercing sunrays raise the temperature up to the 30s, still but it is always cold under the shade.

    Gilgit, like most of the Northern areas, lacks rainfalls, for the monsoon breaks against the Southern scarp of Himalayas. Rainfall in here averages only 12 to 24 cm a year. The water supply for the irrigation of the cultivate land is made by the rivers, abundant with melting snow water from higher altitudes.

    The spring season from March to May makes its presence clearly felt by spreading forth a variety of fragrant flowers and aromatic shrubs around. The most common and the most impressive flowers of the season are the clematis, wild alpine roses, phloxes, chrysanthemums, and the pink denticulatas.

    The orchards of Gilgit grow a rich variety of fruits like Apples, Apricots, Cherry, Melons, and even Grapes at lower altitudes.

    The common trees in the area are the Poplars, Birches, Larches, Willows, and Pines. It is really wonderful to see the blossoming trees of cherry, apricot, and walnut trees in the blooming season.

    The orchards of the valley, surrounded by mountains themselves, further arrest the terraced fields of glowing golden wheat, maize and millet.

    The wild life of Gilgit consists of the finest wildlife in the world, most of the species of animals and birds in urgent need of protection. The unique animals like Markhor, Marmot, and the endangered species of the White Snow leopard is found here. The specialty of the Gilgit wild life is the Marco Polo sheep, obviously discovered by Marco Polo when he visited the area in 1273, is found at the heights of 1,180 meters in the mountains.



    Copyright:AlamZaib-2006